Tuesday, June 17, 2014

1882 AA

The American Association was the first association of clubs to seriously challenge the National League as another major league. Previous organizations, like the International Association, were based on a fundamentally different notion of how to organize professional baseball teams. While everyone who is reading this knows that the NL survives today and the AA does not (unless you give much weight to its eventual shotgun merger with the NL), the AA certainly made its mark on the game. It lives on most obviously through the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.

As the AA was organized in 1881, the National League fielded eight teams in Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Providence, Troy, and Worcester. That left major cities like Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis out of luck. While independent clubs were still in existence and of high quality (although not in the numbers they once had been, particularly in the east), there was an opening available for a rival league to enter the fray.

William Hulbert’s decision to start the NL was a consequence of his attempt to wrest the power in baseball from the eastern clubs to his own Chicago team, and the NL generally took on a midwestern feel. When the New York and Philadelphia clubs refused to make their final road trip of the 1876 campaign, they were expelled from the league. Neither city would get another NL team for some time; although some sources claim that this is because Hulbert held a grudge, others dismiss this theory and point out that neither city had a strong independent club worthy of admission to the NL. Regardless, two major eastern cities were without NL teams.

Cincinnati was dropped after 1880 because they allowed alcohol to be sold in their park. The NL also generally insisted on a fifty cent admission fee. The combination of high ticket price and no booze encouraged a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, but it also forsook a great number of potential customers.

In October of 1881 backers of the newly formed independent Cincinnati team (sportswriter O.P. Caylor and Justus Thorner) met in Pittsburgh with Denny McKnight, an area businessman who had managed (in the financial sense) the Allegheny club a few years earlier.

The group decided to sent telegrams to other team, inviting them to a second meeting. This meeting, held on November 2 in Cincinnati was a success and brought together six clubs (Again, I am using the modern [City Name] [Nickname] format even if it is not exactly applicable. In the case of “Pittsburgh” and “Philadelphia”, it is closer to flat-out balderdash): the Brooklyn Atlantics, the Cincinnati Reds, the Louisville Eclipse, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the St. Louis Browns. McKnight was named president.

The AA allowed twenty five cent admission, Sunday baseball, and alcohol sales. Critics of the league and NL snobs derided it as the “beer and whiskey league”, because in addition to allowing sales, most of the teams were in some way backed by beer money. Before the season could start, the AA had to adjust on the fly as the Atlantics withdrew in March due to financial problems. The AA had also attempted to attract the New York Metropolitans, a strong independent club, but they were courted by the NL as well and decided to wait the situation out.

Raiding National League rosters was not a priority for AA clubs, and the NL did not initially react to the new circuit with hostility, just indifference. Some NL and AA teams even met in pre-season exhibitions. NL players were not a necessity for AA teams; several of them had been independent teams and already had a base of talent. However, two backup, unreserved infielders from Detroit became the center of controversy. Dasher Troy signed with Philadelphia and Sam Wise signed with Cincinnati. Troy backed out, claiming that he was not aware of the AA’s intentions to play on Sunday when he signed, and went back to the Wolverines. Wise wound up signing with Boston, which infuriated the AA, and the association decided to drop its policy of honoring the NL blacklist.

The playing rules of the AA were largely similar to those of the NL. The AA did not fine pitchers for hitting batters, used the Mahn ball, and continued the use of courtesy runners. The association decided to determine its standings by winning percentage rather than total wins. Beginning in July, the association itself employed the umpires rather than the teams, a move that seemed downright prescient in light of the NL’s Higham scandal.

The first AA game was played in Cincinnati on May 2; Allegheny defeated the Reds 10-9. Louisville pitcher Tony Mullane worked ambidextrously in a July 18 game against Baltimore, the first to do so in a major league game (while doubtful, Mullane’s handsomeness is credited with starting the custom of Lady’s Day at the ballpark). Mullane added the AA’s first no-hitter to his accomplishments on September 11, winning 2-0 at Cincinnati. His teammate Guy Hecker tossed his own no-no eight days later, 3-1 at Allegheny.

The Athletics got to the early lead, but Cincinnati was 20-10 at the end of June and rolled home from there, going 35-15 the rest of the way. Their final margin over the Athletics was 11.5 games. After the season, they met the NL pennant winners from Chicago in a two game engagement. The homestanding Reds took the first game 4-0 on October 6, but they were defeated 2-0 in Chicago the next day. Some histories claim that the series was stopped when Denny McKnight threatened to expel Cincinnati, but the more credible explanation is that both teams had other engagements to attend to (in the White Stockings’ case, their series with Providence) and that it was never intended as a championship series.

Even though the pennant race was anti-climactic, Sunday ball, alcohol, and quarter admission proved a winning combination for the AA. The Association, which boasted a combined population in its markets around half a million greater than the NL, outdrew the league despite having two less teams (with obvious caveats regarding attendance figures). All six AA teams claimed to be in the black.

Relatively flush with success, the AA teams made runs at NL talent. Detroit’s star catcher Charlie Bennett accepted a $100 advance from the Alleghenys in August, but then refused to sign in October as expected. Pud Galvin and Ed Williamson also were said to have backed out of AA deals. The club sued Bennett, but the court ruled that there was no valid contract. Regardless of the outcome of any particular skirmish, it was now clear that there were two major leagues.

STANDINGS



Cincinnati was clearly the class of the league, leading in both runs scored and allowed with an impressive EW%. Louisville looked like a contender on paper but not on the field, and Philadelphia was the opposite. The league was pretty well-balanced except for Cincinnati on top and, unsurprisingly, the last-minute replacement team in Baltimore on the other end of the spectrum.

In 1882, the AA hit .244/.271/.312 for a .105 SEC, 5.21 runs and 23.66 outs per game. The AA scored .2 runs less per game, with a batting average seven points lower, the same OBA, and a thirty point deficiency in SLG. As you can see, the major difference in offense between the two circuits was power, with more of it in the NL.

CINCINNATI



This incarnation of the Reds was founded in 1881 by Caylor to play a weekend series in St. Louis against the Browns. Apparently, it was a successful gate attraction and illustrated the desire for high-quality baseball in non-League cities. While this is the franchise that carries on today, it is not the same club as the original Red Stockings or the two or three different incarnations of Cincinnati NL teams between 1876-1880. In my experience, many fans of the modern day Reds think that their team is a direct descendant of the 1869 juggernaut--they are wrong, and they don't like to be told that they are wrong.

Every regular player on the team had previous major league experience with the exception of Bid McPhee; Joe Sommer is considered a rookie for my purposes as well, but he had 88 PA for the 1880 Reds. Snyder (BSN), Stearns (DET), Carpenter (WOR), White (DET), and McCormick (WOR) had all played in the NL in 1881. Fulmer had not played in the league since 1880 (BUF), Macullar since 1879 (SYR), and Wheeler was another 1880 Red. None of the other five clubs had such a wealth of established talent, so it can’t be considered much of a surprise that Cincinnati won the pennant.

Prior to playing the two games with Chicago, the Reds had played their in-state NL counterpart from Cleveland at home, but had won just one out of three, and the win came when Dave Rowe, an outfielder by trade, pitched for Cleveland.

Reserve first baseman Henry Luff was apparently fined $5 for making a catch one-handed, and quit the team in response.

PHILADELPHIA



The Athletics had played in the Eastern Championship Association in 1881, and were picked to join the AA over another Philadelphia club, a new outfit being organized by sporting goods magnate Al Reach and Horace Phillips. The AA went with the more established club, backed by Bill Sharsig, a theatre producer (thanks to Richard Hershberger for sharing his research on the potential membership of the Philadelphias).

Athletics regulars with NL experience (last team and year) were: Dorgan (WOR, 1880), Latham (LOU, 1877), Lou Say (CIN, 1880), and Sam Weaver (MIL, 1878). All others plus Dorgan were rookies. Say’s younger brother Jimmy was a reserve shortstop.

LOUISVILLE



The Eclipse was made up of players who had already been together over the preceding seasons. Only two of the regulars had any NL experience: Denny Mack (BUF, 1880) and Tony Mullane (DET, 1881). Only Mack is not considered a rookie by my standard. It is noteworthy then that he was the team’s least valuable regular in terms of WAR.

Louisville may have had the most balanced combination of good-hitting pitchers yet seen. Mullane and 1B/P Guy Hecker each hit at 110 ARG or better. Among teams using two pitchers, there are none from 1876 until this point that had two pitchers each hit at such a high level. I’m not saying that they are the best hitting combination (as, say, Jim Whitney plus a marginal hitter would still create more runs than Mullane/Hecker), just that they both were solid contributors at the plate.

PITTSBURGH



This is one of the more blatant contemporary recastings of a team name as this team was the “Allegheny” club and a lot of people still spelled the name of the city in which they played “Pittsburg”. Just so you know.

Regulars with NL experience: Taylor (CLE, 1881), Strief (CLE, 1879), Leary (DET, 1881 but still a rookie), Mansell (CIN, 1880), Swartwood (BUF, 1881 but still a rookie), and Salisbury (TRO, 1879).

John Peters may have been the biggest “name” player in the association, at least based on previous NL exploits. I suppose that one could make an argument for Will White, but Peters was one of the better players in the first few seasons of the senior circuit.

ST. LOUIS



After St. Louis dropped out of the NL during the 1877-78 offseason, independent teams billing themselves as the Browns continued to play in the city. This particular incarnation was backed by Chris Von der Ahe, a German immigrant who had succeeded in the beer business. He is one of the most interesting characters in nineteenth century baseball, and I will not be able to do him justice. He was prone to saying silly-sounding things, but what would you expect from someone speaking his non-native tongue? He was also criticized as lacking baseball knowledge (he supposedly boasted that his club’s infield was the largest in the country). Whether that particular one is true or not, one needn’t understand the nuances of the game on the field to succeed as a team owner. My point is that he gets a bad rap from some circles--he was a self-made man who was heavily involved in the operation of a successful major league and within a few years his team would be the AA's greatest dynasty.

In The Ball Clubs, Dewey and Accoella described him as “A German immigrant with a comic strip accent, a comic book physiognomy, and comic wardrobe of diamond stickpins, checkered pants, and spats.” That gives you a decent summary of the common view of the man. For more balanced accounts, read some of the entries on him at This Game of Games, and go there if you want to know anything else about the 19th century game in St. Louis.

Browns regulars with NL experience were: Sullivan (BUF, 1881), Bill Gleason (STL, 1877 but still a rookie), Ned Cuthbert (CIN, 1877 and the manager), and Seward (NYN, 1876). According to Cliff Blau's article on this team, regulars Schappert and Walkera nd reserves Smiley and Fusselback were signed away from the Athletics and Atlantics, while Charlie Comiskey was signed from a Dubuque club, and Harry McCaffery was signed away from an area independent club in June. Jack Gleason missed April with injuries sustained during his off-season job as a fireman.

BALTIMORE



The Orioles, a late replacement for Brooklyn, were easily the least seasoned team in the AA, at least in terms of NL experience. Just three regulars had played in the NL: Henry Myers (PRO, 1881 and the manager of the Baltimores), Waitt (CHN, 1877), and Nichols (WOR, 1880). Only Nichols fails to qualify under my standard as a rookie, and one source claimed that Myers was the only player with NL experience on the opening day roster. Not surprisingly, the team was overmatched finishing in the cellar by 14.5 games. The pitching duo of Landis and Nichols was particularly bad, coming up 1-2 in the cellar in WAA (although this may also reflect heavily on the fielding in this day and age). Landis had been released by the Athletics after losing to Baltimore on May 4.

Twice (against Cincinnati in June and St. Louis in July) opposing catchers purposefully dropped Oriole third strikes with the bases loaded to turn triple plays. A June 28 game against the Reds set a still-standing record for the most runs scored in extra innings, as each club scored four in the tenth before Cincinnati won it with seven in the eleventh.

Most secondary sources claim that the Von der Horst family owned the team. Apparently they used baseball as the drawing card for their other interests--surrounding real estate that included an entertainment complex complete with restaurant, concert grounds, and dance hall.

However, Cliff Blau's research indicates that the Von der Horsts did not come to own the team until 1883 or 1884. There were rumors that this team would be replaced in the AA by a new AA club representing Baltimore and Washington, but in the end, this team withdrew from the circuit and was replaced by a new Baltimore entry. Blau's article was a source for some of the other information in this post.

Leaders and trailers:
BATTING AVERAGE
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.378)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (.342)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.329)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (.156)
ON BASE AVERAGE
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.430)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.370)
3. Hick Carpenter, CIN (.360)
Trailer: Chappy Lane, PIT (.196)
SLUGGING AVERAGE
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.510)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.489)
3. Billy Taylor, PIT (.452)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (.172)
SECONDARY AVERAGE
1. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.225)
2. Pete Browning, LOU (.222)
3. Billy Taylor, PIT (.194)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.043)
Trailing non-pitcher: Bill Smiley, STL (.047)
RUNS CREATED
1. Pete Browning, LOU (78)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (77)
3. Hick Carpenter, CIN (72)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (66)
5. Mike Mansell, PIT (64)
ARG
1. Pete Browning, LOU (238)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (180)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (179)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (152)
5. Jack O’Brien, PHA (149)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (48)
WAA
1. Pete Browning, LOU (+4.5)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (+3.4)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (+3.2)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (+2.4)
5. Chicken Wolf, LOU (+1.7)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (-2.0)
WAR
1. Pete Browning, LOU (+5.8)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (+4.9)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (+4.4)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (+3.8)
5. Pop Snyder, CIN (+3.1)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (-.8)
ARA
1. Denny Driscoll, PIT (61)
2. Will White, CIN (65)
3. Harry McCormick, CIN (76)
4. Sam Weaver, PHA (83)
5. Tony Mullane, LOU (83)
Trailer: Tricky Nichols, BAL (162)
WAA
1. Will White, CIN (+4.7)
2. Denny Driscoll, PIT (+2.2)
3. Tony Mullane, LOU (+2.1)
4. Sam Weaver, PHA (+1.7)
5. Harry McCormick, CIN (+1.5)
Trailer: Doc Landis, BAL (-2.5)
T WAR
1. Will White, CIN (+6.3)
2. Tony Mullane, LOU (+4.7)
3. Sam Weaver, PHA (+2.7)
4. Guy Hecker, LOU (+2.4)
5. Denny Driscoll, PIT (+2.1)
Trailer: Doc Landis, BAL (-2.7)

My all-star team:
C: Pop Snyder, CIN
1B: Guy Hecker, LOU
2B: Pete Browning, LOU
3B: Hick Carpenter, CIN
SS: Chick Fulmer, CIN
LF: Joe Sommer, CIN
CF: Oscar Walker, STL
RF: Ed Swartwood, PIT
P: Will White, CIN
P: Tony Mullane, LOU
MVP: 2B Pete Browning, LOU
Rookie Hitter: 2B Pete Browning, LOU
Rookie Pitcher: Tony Mullane, LOU

These choices were all pretty straightforward. The only position where I did not end up going with the highest WAR was center, where Walker was +1.6 with 6 FR and John Reccius was +1.8 with -3 FR.

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